Digital Divide

June 12, 2020 12:00 am Published by

At the end of last year, I wrote my reflections on the year. I finished it with:

So, I still like what I’m doing and will be going for 40 years beginning in August!

Needless to say, this year has been like no other in the last 40 years. When schools shut down in California in March, it became very clear that my school district had a big problem. I work for a district that has one Preschool through 8th grade school in a low SES primarily farm worker town about 30 minutes from my city.

What happened with my district is particularly relevant to the Black Lives Matter movement happening in our country. According to the Pew Research Center in a survey conducted last year, Black and Hispanic adults are significantly less likely to own a computer or have high speed internet in their homes.

In my district, the plan was to switch to online learning or sending packets of work home on a weekly basis. It turns out that virtually none of my families had the internet so until 3 or 4 weeks ago, my therapy involved sending papers home to practice and calling and/or texting parents to check in with them. It turned out that some parents didn’t take calls and didn’t have their phones set up for messages. Others didn’t respond. It was difficult to know if my students were doing anything speech or language related.

Then about 3-4 weeks ago, some hot spots were set up so students would have internet access and Chromebooks and tablets were sent home. At this point, other problems surfaced. Many students were incapable of checking their emails and clicking on the link for our meetings. Many parents had no clue how to do anything on the computer. Parents were told they could get set up by going to the school and getting help but not all of them did that.

For the students I could work with, the internet that we used was adequate but not the best. A big problem was that many of these kids come from large families and the students did not have a quiet place to work with me. It was not uncommon to have younger siblings making lots of noise, parents cooking and talking, radios going in the background, etc.

On the plus side, it was nice to reconnect with my students and give them some feedback about their speech/language issues. By our last session, I felt like with consistent sessions, my students would make progress.

I couldn’t help but contrast my experience with higher SES families where students have their own rooms, a quiet place to work as well as their own computers and excellent internet connectivity.

So while many problems exist related to the digital divide, I believe an important step that we as a nation should take for our students since we don’t know how long Covid-19 is going to be around, would be to have universal high speed internet available for all families in our country as part of public education. As education moves more and more online, all students need to have equal access to education.

Stephen Sacks

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